In a global, knowledge-based economy that’s hyper-competitive and where technology develops at the speed of light – your career is bound to be shaped and moulded by technological advances and the need to acquire new knowledge everyday. Your career is like an organism – that develops and evolves daily – it has tentacles and cells that divide and grow each day and require the sum of many parts to allow it to thrive. In short, your career needs a systems approach to its growth and development.
Nowadays, having one mentor just won’t do. You need a “multi-mentor strategy” that will equip you with all the tools and resources at your fingertips. With the rise of social media and information on-demand, the need for advice in a fast-pace world calls for practicality and interactions unburdened by having to set appointments to meet over coffee one month down the road. Make no mistake, physical interactions in a mentor-mentee relationship are very important – but when you need a quick response at a moments notice to adequately craft a good cover letter with a tight deadline, or to get a quick response to a potential interview question, having many mentors, in a virtual environment, similar to the one at Aspire-Canada, is indispensable.
In an in-depth study of professional service firms, Harvard Business School professor Thomas DeLong and his colleagues discovered: “Everyone we spoke with over age 40 could name a mentor in his or her professional life, but younger people often could not.” They note, “Junior professionals joining a firm 20 years ago could count on the partners treating them like protégés.” Today job turnover, layoffs, and increased bottom-line pressures have taken a hatchet to that “implicit agreement. The answer isn’t to give up on finding a mentor, however — it’s to broaden your search”.
In order to allow your career room to grow and evolve, a multi-mentor strategy is crucial. Many companies no longer offer traditional mentorship programs – and the notion of one mentor to a mentee is terribly outdated. The employee performance review is a good place to start to identify areas to work on and a way to identify skills needed to advance your career. Outside of this formal process – anyone can do a personal stock taking exercise to identify an inventory of core skills needed to advance. This will help identify how your multi-mentor strategy will take shape. Each mentor should respond to a skill or competence needed.
Here are some questions to help guide you.
What skills would you like to refine?
The first step in developing your strategy is your personal stock-taking exercise. What are your professional goals, and what competencies do you need to get there? If you’re planning to shift functional roles — from IT to accounting, for instance — you may want to seek out a mentor with accounting experience. Similarly, if you intend to grow into a position of leadership, finding a mentor with great delegation skills or the ability to build relationships with difficult employees could be valuable. If you are transitioning from being a stay-at home mom and returning to the workforce then targeting a mentor that has had success transitioning back to the work will be helpful. Similarly, if you’re a new immigrant to Canada, you may want to seek out one or more mentors who have had to traverse that path and essentially rebuild a career from scratch in a new country.
How can you build your strategy based on lifestyle/social factors?
Ensure that you have laser focus and target your background/situation to the type of person who can best help you to derive maximum benefits from the mentor-mentee relationship. It makes no sense just targeting someone in your profession broadly speaking, without taking into consideration other similarities that will enable a fruitful relationship. Just like how we develop cross-functional teams to tackle big organizational problems by tapping into leaders that bring various types of expertise to the team – we also need a cross-functional approach to our mentorship strategy. For instance, mothers with young children face challenges in career advancement from having to juggle careers and home life – if you are having to balance these issues it makes sense to tap into a mentor who has had to overcome these hurdles to climb the corporate ladder. Critical to career success is balancing a successful career with other lifestyle factors – having access to real time advice that could increase your productivity is also beneficial. Building your cross-functional “multi-mentor strategy” is critical in today’s economy.
What are the soft skills that are beneficial in your industry?
Once you’ve developed a list of skills and competencies, try to identify people with success using soft skills in their careers of businesses. Write down the people you know and respect who possess them. Strategic, tactical skills are also important as well as branding yourself and ensuring that you are being visible in your organization. These skills don’t come naturally but require an awareness through networking and mentoring to hone and develop. Other critical skills such as communications, marketing and branding may also come into play too with the rise in social media.
How can you provide value-added in the relationship?
Ensure that you are also providing value-added in the relationship. Seek out ways of being helpful in different ways, if possible. For each mentor on your list, think about what skills or qualities you bring to the table and may be able to offer them. Some of your mentors may be business leaders in the community. Seek out ways of helping them with their volunteer or community efforts – if you’re adept at social media you could help out with their social media campaign. All relationships should be reciprocal in nature and you can also increase your network by just being genuinely helpful to others.